An adult female friend of mine was called a “cunt” by a male in the full-game chat of an online video game, in front of all of her friends and every player online at the time. She called me on the phone to express how offended and upset she’d felt, but also to express her concern over how she handled it. She had told her fellow gaming friends not to stand up for her or start a fight over the male gamer’s rude treatment of her.
While we talked, I had to explain that calling a woman a “cunt” is hate-speech, that it is essential to tell other people (especially the younger girls that play this online game) that they can stand up for themselves and for their friends, that even if the Internet provides an anonymous cover for misogynists, women and men can still call it out. By saying something as simple as “That’s ignorant,” or “That isn’t okay,” female and male feminists can express their disapproval for someone using words like “cunt,” “bitch,” “whore,” or “slut.”
It’s important to call people out. If you keep your cool and don’t let the discussion turn into a shouting match or a bout of name-calling, then it’s productive. It might not change how someone behaves on the Internet–because we all well know that the anonymity of online-personas allows for a lot of terrible behavior–but it can encourage others to speak up. It shows people that that behavior is not to be tolerated. It makes people more likely to speak up in real life, to defend themselves and their friends. It is important.